Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Business As Usual at the U?

Georgia Tech Confirms Tenure Revocation

Although there was no press release or news citation on this action, the double-dipping duo of Sainfort and Jacko has had their tenure revoked at Georgia Tech. This was confirmed today by the Public Relations Office at Georgia Tech.

Meanwhile at the U of M no word on a resolution of the problem. Perhaps - as in so many other cases here - we will just ignore this situation until the problem goes away?

Seems kind of hard to blow off tenure revocation as a trivial matter, but you know the gang in Morrill Hall - anything for a laugh?

Also having someone like this as a major player on a translational clinical research grant proposal might, ah, damage your credibility?

And how have those translational research center grant submissions been going folks?

For background see:

U Admin: Sainfort, Jacko Being Treated Unfairly?

Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave - From the Atlanta Constitution

Latest Word on Double-Dipping at the U
or, Business as Usual

Drip, Drip, Drip... The Ice Cream is Melting
People Continue to Ask What Should Be
Embarrassing Questions

President Bruininks waxes eloquent on good behavior, but apparently does not have the courage to do something about it. Maybe he should start start taking lessons from the football coach? ( Brewster's job is on the line and he sat down two players for the next two games. One of them is a star. Give the man some credit. )

"I think we need to put ourselves in the position of acting according to the highest ethical principles. I believe our people do that now and I believe our people will be doing that in the future as well." President Bruininks (Daily: 6-18-08)

Talk is getting cheaper by the year on this matter, Dr. Bruininks. How about showing a little backbone?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bucky Kicks Butt - in Biotech (Part Two)

Badger State's Tech Boom

From today's Strib, link not yet available, print only for the time being:

by Thomas Lee

A look under the hood at Wisconsin's biotech start-up machine reveals a powerfully successful combination of academic and commercial cooperation.

Wisconsin's track record has caught the attention of business, political and academic leaders in Minnesota, where repeated attempts to create the climate to grow high-tech startups - the so-called "next Medtronics" - have stalled. Indeed, Minnesota has lost start-up companies to the Badger state, where entrepreneurs often can find more financial support.

"There is a real desire to succeed in Wisconsin," Bianco [Leyland Health Consulting, Minneapolis] said. "The state has no stodgy culture. It is a culture of newness. A desire to try new things. Minnesota is like the sleeping giant. We are not living up to our potential."

This is a very good and thought-provoking article. I'll put up a link when it becomes available on the Strib's website.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Bucky Kicks Butt - in Biotech

In battles that really matter the State of Minnesota

still lags badly behind Wisconsin

As we await the Badger invasion next Saturday, an interesting article about the comparative biotech situation in Minnesota and Wisconsin has appeared in the Sunday Strib. It has been written by Thomas Lee who has a very good eye for developments in this general area.

Unfortunately, this important story is print only until Wednesday, so I can't give a link - yet. I'll put it up when the article appears online. [Added 9-30: link now up. ]

Some excerpts:

"As football fans and players prepare for next Saturday's showdown between Wisconsin's Badgers and Minnesota's Gophers at the new TCF stadium, it's obvious to those close to this industry that the biotech rivalry between the two states is just as spirited. And that Minnesota is the underdog."

"When it comes to innovation, epecially in biosciences, Minnesota is quickly falling behind its neighbor. Besides Rapid Dianostek a highly touted drug spun off from the U of M called VitalMedix, Inc. also moved to Hudson because it could not find financing in its home state. U officials also warn that a planned botech start-up from renowned scientist, Dr. Doris Taylor, might leave Minnesota if it can't find local funding."

"Wisconsin has become the regional biotech equivalent of traditional high-tech powerhouses like Boston, Silicon Valley, and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, thanks to strong political support, an influx of investor capital and what is arguably the most formidable university technology transfer program in the country."

"'How is Minnesota going to catch up?' said Rapid Diagnostek CEO Harry Norris. 'They need a quantum leap to catch up.'"

"But analysts say that the Badger state is light years ahead of Minnesota in creating biotech companies..."

"Wisconsin's tax credits alarm many in Minnesota. 'Even if Wisconsin takes a couple of companies a year, that's significant,' said Joy Lindsay, president of Star-Tec Investments, an angel investment firm in Bloomington. 'It's not only Wisconsin's tax credits. They seem to have gone further and set up an environment to help investors and entrepreneurs. We don't have that."
This is quite a thought-provoking article.

I'd advise anyone in Minnesota who is interested in Biotech to read it.

What seems to be lacking here in Minnesota is leadership in this area at the state level. The blame here may be placed at the feet of our absentee governor.

At the University of Minnesota there is also plenty of blame to share. Experience at University Enterprises Laboratories indicates that upper managment at the U of M does not have a handle on biotech.

Hopefully this will change in the next couple of years as our current fearless leader rides off into the sunset.

Business as usual is not going to cut it. This is a matter that needs to have high priority at the U, unlike some of the other things being pursued in the vainglorious ambition to be one of the top three yadda, yadda.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Test Video

Former Minnesota President Mark Yudof Steps In It...

Or Does He?

My idol as an academic blogger, Margaret Soltan, has an interesting post up wherein she lumps Mark Yudof with:

" a thousand clowns like Mark Yudof at the heads of American universities. Their bouncy personalities play well among potential donors, but they fall down badly when it’s time to get serious."

I confess to being a great admirer of Mr. Yudof. See, for example: "On the Approaching Tenth Anniversary of Mark Yudof’s Inauguration As President of the University of Minnesota."

The basis for UD's (Dr. Soltan's handle) scorn is an interview in the New York Times magazine:

As president of the University of California, the most prestigious of the state-university systems, you have proposed that in-state tuition be jacked up to more than $10,000, from $7,788. Are you pricing education beyond the reach of most students?

In 2009, U.C. adopted the Blue and Gold Program, guaranteeing that no student with a family income below $60,000 would pay any fees, and this guarantee will continue in 2010. That’s the short answer.

Already professors on all 10 U.C. campuses are taking required “furloughs,” to use a buzzword.

Let me tell you why we used it. The faculty said “furlough” sounds more temporary than “salary cut,” and being president of the University of California is like being manager of a cemetery: there are many people under you, but no one is listening. I listen to them.

The word “furlough,” I recently read, comes from the Dutch word “verlof,” which means permission, as in soldiers’ getting permission to take a few days off. How has it come to be a euphemism for salary cuts?

Look, I’m from West Philadelphia. My dad was an electrician. We didn’t look up stuff like this. It wasn’t part of what we did. When I was growing up we didn’t debate the finer points of what the word “furlough” meant.

How did you get into education?

I don’t know. It’s all an accident. I thought I’d go work for a law firm.

Some people feel you could close the U.C. budget gap by cutting administrative salaries, including your own.

The stories of my compensation are greatly exaggerated.

When you began your job last year, your annual compensation was reportedly $828,000.

It actually was $600,000 until I cut my pay by $60,000. So my salary is $540,000, but it gets amplified because people say, “You have a pension plan.”

[Cough, cough... Earth to President Bruininks: Go thou and do likewise?]

What do you think of the idea that no administrator at a state university needs to earn more than the president of the United States, $400,000?

Will you throw in Air Force One and the White House?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Strib urges University of Minnesota to put lawsuit aside...

Are you listening, President Bruininks?

From the Strib:

Despite the soothing assurances that accompanied it, the University of Minnesota's move this week to take its Central Corridor concerns to court is disappointing.

...it's disappointing that one party is so nervous about the other that it was willing to toss a lawsuit bomb into the middle of negotiations that both parties agree have been producing progress toward an accord.

Rotenberg has likened the situation in which the U finds itself to that of a farmer whose land is being taken for a highway, and is not adequately compensated for the loss. His analogy isn't quite fitting. Both parties in this fight are substantial enterprises, and both are in business to serve Minnesota.

The university will benefit greatly from Central Corridor, and it has abundant interest in prudent stewardship of the public purse. Likewise, Central Corridor has much to gain from establishing a good relationship with a vitally important and politically powerful neighbor. With so much reason to agree, this quarrel ought to be settled soon, outside a courtroom.
As I have pointed out many times before, the U seems reluctant to spell out exactly what the cost of mitigation would be for the present situation. Why is this so difficult? Instead they insist on a blank check for mitigation far into the future. This simply is not reasonable.

And if one reads the actual suit documents, the lack of acting in good faith is evident and disappointing. Issues previously thought to be settled are now being exhumed. See for example:

More Details Emerge in

Pioneer Press Article

About U's Beef With Light Rail...

Leadership and a sensible approach to solving problems of mutual interest has been sadly lacking in Morrill Hall. Hopefully, in the next few years, this will change.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mitigation, Litigation, Shmitigation?

From the Pioneer Press:

... given its long list of unequivocal objections, it wouldn't have been surprising to see the litany of complaints the U filed in court Tuesday end with, "And not only that, but Peter Bell wears ugly ties."

Lawsuits are by their nature polarized documents, and this one reads as if the U's involvement in the Central Corridor project has been one long, disappointing exercise in forbearance, rather than a process whose outcome could be not just tolerable but also beneficial.

The University is dissatisfied with the level of mitigating detail the Met Council has developed in response to its concerns about the effects of the project. The U's lawsuit accuses the council of failing to deal with its concerns effectively.

Building a big project in an already-built-up place is a giant pain. Most everybody involved suffers some along the way, there's never enough money no matter how much there is, and nobody gets everything he or she wants. Coordinating the priorities and prejudices of multiple constituencies and multiple layers of government is not a job for the shortsighted or short of temper. At frequent intervals, it would be tempting to simply yield to inertia and become again a body at rest.

Fortunately for St. Paul, we have cool heads and persistent personalities at the center of the effort to connect the east metro to what is becoming a rapidly (relatively speaking) developing metro transit network. If the U's new lawsuit is a tactic, and not a state of mind, there's a good chance that the hard work of reconciling competing interests will continue, and succeed.

Would that we could say the same about cool heads in Morrill Hall... I am afraid that theirs is a state of mind and not a tactic. Those at the top will be gone when the consequences arrive. Perhaps we would behave in a more sensible fashion if our leader had some skin in the game?

Light rail on campus

Perhaps U of M should think better of its suit

From the Star-Tribune:

Not getting its way on routing of the Central Corridor light rail, the University of Minnesota administration is throwing a legal tantrum, suing the Metropolitan Council (Star Tribune, Sept. 23).

The Met Council is an extension of state government, with members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. Entering the next legislative cycle with jaws clamped firmly to the hand that feeds it might prove less than productive for the university.


You are right, Mr. Everett. This doesn't seem very intelligent. But then... consider the source.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More Details Emerge in

Pioneer Press Article

About U's Beef With Light Rail...

Primarily, the suit claims that in planning the project, the Met Council violated the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act by not addressing the U's concerns about "environmental impact."

Met Council Chairman Peter Bell responded Tuesday by calling the suit "premature and without merit," saying the planning agency had taken all necessary legal steps to move forward with the rail line connecting the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

A spokesman for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said, "We are fully confident the project office is taking all necessary steps to resolve the U's concerns and this lawsuit will prove unnecessary."

The suit also alleges the project will detract "from the current setting and esthetic quality of the University's historical districts," including places listed on the National Register of Historic Places and places eligible but not listed.

[Now this is a new one, unrelated to noise and vibration affecting research instrumentation. Pay attention to what they do - this suit - rather than what they say...]

"When determining whether to list an area as an historic district, the University's Board of Regents also considers an area's setting," the suit states, adding that "the increase in average daily (car) traffic associated with (the light-rail line) will adversely affect the existing setting and esthetic quality of the (campus)."

[So here is the hidden agenda. The U administration does not like the route. They've never liked it, unless the thing was in a tunnel or the Northern route used. What is being stated above has nothing to do with mitigation for research equipment.]

The suit also claims that under state law, the Met Council has no right under eminent domain to use the U's property for the project, because it is already being put to public use.

[Wow! Now this is big and everyone should wake up and pay attention. Seems that the President does, indeed, have a Vatican complex. Will he still have one next Spring when the U has to pay for this arrogance?]

"We need a binding agreement on how those (environmental impacts) are going to be addressed — which we don't have," said university general counsel Mark Rotenberg. "It's not OK to be told, 'We'll still keep talking, we'll still keep talking'; meanwhile, they issue all these formal benchmarks."

[There is true irony to Rotenberg making a this statement. This has been the University (administration's) very own modus operandi lately. As the saying goes about gored oxen...]

Replied Bell: "The university is expecting a level of detail today that normally would not be achieved in a project such as this until much later — when the project moves into the final design phase.

"The U has said to me that this is principally done to preserve their prerogative. ... I really do wish, however, that the U would show more concern about the budgetary restraints we're under."

If the application for the final design is not submitted by early November, builders will miss the spring construction season — which with inflation would add $30 million to $40 million to the cost of the $941 million project, Bell said.

[I suggest that any cost due to delay be born by the university in such a way that the cost is not passed on to students. At least one state legislator knows how to do this.]

Jeremy Hanson, a spokesman for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, said in a statement, "Although we have not had a chance to fully review the lawsuit from the university, Mayor Rybak is concerned that any delay risks a huge inflationary cost increase to the project, which could put the entire light-rail line at risk."

Comparing the Central Corridor to a highway project affecting farm owners, Rotenberg said, "If the project can't deal with the harm to adjacent landowners, then it can't move forward. That's part of what you budget for."

While saying the U was working with the Met Council to make the budget work, "It's fundamentally not the U's responsibility to come up with a budget that is adequate to the project that they want to build."

[These are stupid, arrogant, and insensitive words to use, Mr. Rotenberg. They will come back to haunt you. Wait until you hear something like this from the legislature: "It's not the legislature's responsibility to come up with a budget that is adequate for the buildings they want to build." ]

Since 2001, the university's position has been that it wants a tunnel beneath Washington Avenue. If not that, then a detour around the northern edge of campus through Dinkytown. The tunnel was deemed too costly, and a university-sponsored study found the Dinkytown detour would draw too few riders to score well on the FTA's "cost-effectiveness index," a key benchmark required to secure federal funds.

It certainly does appear that the University is trying to have it their way, and how this is accomplished really doesn't matter.

We were told that the objection was based on problems with research equipment. These problems could be alleviated. The University seems unwilling to spell out what needs to be done and how much it would cost, but rather insists on a blank check into the future.

We learn upon reading the suit that the old complaints about traffic and other matters related to the historic nature of the University campus are now back on the table.

And finally there is the threat to be uncooperative because the U is some sort of Vatican-like entity not subject to arguments about the public good.

That the University would operate in bad faith on this matter is no surprise to those who have been watching the behavior of the current Morrill Hall crew. Look at the conflict of interest situation, the Graduate School, General College, the double dippers, and the generally poor priorities set by this administration. Given our current situation, mumbling about ambitious aspirations and third greatest yadda, yadda pretty much says it all.

President Bruininks will be leaving us right about the time we go over the cliff. There is a lot of similarity between him and Governor Pawlenty.

More on Polly, Grassley, and the U...

For background see the post: Two Year COI Foot Dragging

Yesterday the Strib, today the Pioneer Planet:

A prominent U.S. senator is questioning whether a University of Minnesota spine surgeon has made false or misleading statements when explaining the use of a Medtronic product in a 2006 research project.

In a letter sent this week, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, revisits an issue first raised this summer, that Michigan-based Stryker Corp. has provided information that appears to contradict the public comments of Dr. David Polly, a spine surgery expert at the University of Minnesota.

At issue is a study conducted by Polly during 2006 that looked at whether treatment involving a Medtronic product called Infuse could promote new bone formation in rat femurs. Fridley-based Medtronic Inc. was paying Polly for consulting services at the time, so a university committee asked whether a non-Medtronic product could be used instead in the research project.

Polly responded that Infuse was "the only commercially available off shelf growth factor to date," according to documents obtained by Grassley.

Stryker was selling a similar product in 2006, but Polly has explained his choice in recent public comments by saying Stryker was approved under a special "humanitarian device exemption," which limits sales to 4,000 devices per year. Grassley, however, now is challenging whether these restrictions really prevented Polly from using Stryker's product.

"Stryker never exceeded sales of 4,000 units in 2006, so that point appears to be irrelevant," the senator wrote in a letter Monday to University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks. "Humanitarian device exemptions do not cover animal studies, such as Dr. Polly's study of rat femurs, so that point appears to be misleading."

John Lundquist, an attorney for Polly, said his client believes his statements continue to be accurate. Use of the Stryker product must be approved by an institutional review board, Lundquist said, and is meant to be used only in specific circumstances for a limited number of users.

"He wanted to study a product that would be generally commercially available, rather than study a product that was not generally available to physicians," the attorney said.

Mark Rotenberg, the U's general counsel, said the university has received Grassley's letter and will respond to the senator's concerns.

Following a lengthy letter from Grassley this summer, Rotenberg initiated an inquiry into several matters related to Polly's work at the university. That inquiry should be complete within 30 to 45 days, Rotenberg said, although he suggested the results might not be made public.

"The concerns raised by Sen. Grassley in his latest letter ... are significant, and we're going to make sure that we understand as best we can whether or not the review committee was accurately and fully informed," Rotenberg said.

Grassley concluded his Monday letter to Bruininks by saying that he questions whether the U has a conflict-of-interest policy that fully monitors its researchers. The Polly incident is a case in point, Grassley wrote, because "the university could have easily figured out that at least one competing product to Infuse was available."

Rotenberg said the university is continuing a comprehensive review of its conflict-of-interest policies and hopes to make changes soon that will strengthen oversight.

"We certainly share (Grassley's) concern that the University of Minnesota, and higher education across the U.S., needs to address the public's concern about research integrity and transparency, especially in the health care field," Rotenberg said.

In addition to the letter about the Stryker product, Grassley sent a separate letter to Bruininks on Tuesday that asks the university to provide all communications sent or received by Polly from January to the present. Doing so, Grassley wrote, will help him "better understand the relationships between industry and physicians."

Grassley on Tuesday also sent letters to the presidents of Minneapolis-based Team Spine-Minnesota Inc. and the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, seeking more information pertaining to Polly.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Grassley Broadens Focus of Probe of Dr. Polly and the University of Minnesota

Looking Into Connection With Fairview and Team Spine Minnesota-Inc.

The Strib reports:

A prominent U.S. senator probing the financial relationship between the head of spine surgery at the University of Minnesota and device giant Medtronic Inc. has broadened his inquiry to include Fairview Health Services, as well as a distributor of spine surgery products in St. Louis Park.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent letters on Tuesday to Mark Eustis, chief executive of Fairview Health Services, and Timothy Healy, the head of Team Spine-Minnesota Inc., requesting information regarding their relationship with Dr. David Polly of the University of Minnesota.

Grassley, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, also sent two letters to President Robert Bruininks on Tuesday and Wednesday requesting all communications sent or received by Polly, who was paid $1.2 million between 2003 and 2007 by the Fridley-based medical technology company for consulting, expenses and honoraria.

The salvo is the latest in Grassley's broader investigation probing conflicts of interest in medicine, and appears to be prompted by an interview Polly gave to Minnesota Public Radio in July. The senator's probe of the medical device industry began in 2007, when Grassley sent a letter to Medtronic CEO Bill Hawkins asking for details about the consulting relationships between the company and 15 of the nation's top spine surgeons, including Polly.

The letter to Fairview's Eustis asks for a monthly accounting of all devices used by Polly from January, 2008 to the present, as well as an explanation regarding Polly's role in Fairview's choice of devices used in spine surgery. The senator also asked whether Polly disclosed his relationship with Medtronic to Fairview.

The letter to Team-Spine asks for a monthly accounting of all Medtronic products used by Polly from January, 2008 to the present, the amount of bonus earned by a sales representative Terry McCord, and all correspondence between McCord and Polly from January 2008 to the present. Communications between McCord and Healy from July 24 to the present were also requested, as well as consulting reports filed with the company by Polly between March and late July.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said in an interview that Grassley "raises important and serious concerns. The university is committed to having the highest standards possible in higher education for individual and institutional conflicts of interest avoidance."

(The noise you hear in the background is the sound of feet, dragging...)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dissemblin' with Robert


the Tuition Two Step

From the Daily:

In "Rappin' with Robert" in the September 15, 2009 issue of the Minnesota Daily, University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks is quoted as saying, "Student tuition increases will not exceed 3 percent this year and not exceed 4.5 percent next year." But these numbers hide their temporary nature. In fact, tuition increased by more than 7% this year and is projected to increase by 7.5% next year. The Daily Editorial Board is not calling President Bruininks a liar, but he is definitely not telling the whole truth.


These stealth increases will need to be paid in full when the stimulus funding ends. This means that in the Fall of 2011, the $1500 increase will kick in along with an increase for the 2011 academic year which will be a large one - nine percent would not be surprising given the financial cliff we are set to go over. This means that tuition coud be over $12,000.

So in the long run the students will pay for this administration's unwillingness to make hard choices now and for the inappropriate priorities of the last few years.

Such has it been with the current Morrill Hall crew.
Strib Editorial - University of Minnesota was Key in Borlaug's Story

Student aid, second chance gave the world a great scientist.

Norman Borlaug was born in Iowa, died in Texas, and was known the world over for increasing wheat yields in Mexico, India and China. But he spent his career-forming young adult years at the University of Minnesota, and carried the imprint of lessons and values learned there into a lifetime of life-saving service to humanity

The Nobel Prize-winning wheat scientist's death Saturday at age 95 is felt personally by many at his alma mater, where Borlaug was expected to be a homecoming grand marshal next month. But tributes paid Borlaug upon his passing should also stir pride in the role the University of Minnesota played in his work, and attention to the institution's capacity to spawn the next generation of world-changing scientists.

Borlaug was a good high school student and talented wrestler from Cresco, Iowa, in 1933, when he followed an older Cresco football star's lead and headed for the University of Minnesota. But Iowa's math and science high school standards weren't up to Minnesota's in those years. Iowans were required to take an entrance exam before enrolling. Borlaug failed.

But that year, for the first time, the university offered another option: General College. That second-chance program for underprepared students was Borlaug's gateway. Within a year, his good grades and work ethic won him admission to the College of Agriculture.

His studies were threatened again less than two years later by financial problems. This time, it was the federal government -- and in particular, Eleanor Roosevelt -- who came to the rescue. The First Lady was behind the first federal foray into student financial aid, the National Youth Administration (NYA), born in 1935 just in time to finance Borlaug's education. It assigned needy students to work for top professors in a variety of capacities. Borlaug's assignments exposed him to scientific enterprises about which he previously knew little.

"NYA is what saved me," Borlaug told biographer Leon Hesser, author of the 2006 book "The Man Who Fed the World." One of the professors Borlaug worked for was plant pathologist E.C. Stakman. Stakman "set me on a path of science" and arranged for the newly minted Ph.D. to move to Mexico and take up his life's work, the development of high-yield, disease-resistant strains of wheat.

Recent developments at the U of M are disturbing. Would a Norman Borlaug even get into the U nowadays? Priorities seem to have changed - and not for the better.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Doing the Dirty Down Under...

From the Strib:

Medtronic payments to doctor-consultants controversy erupts Down Under

Citing confidential documents, the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia reported last week that the Fridley-based medical technology giant devised a "secret marketing strategy" in 2007 to woo doctors' loyalty by paying fellowship grants.

The stateside controversy concerning Medtronic's payments to its doctor-consultants has erupted Down Under.

Citing confidential documents, the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia reported last week that the Fridley-based medical technology giant devised a "secret marketing strategy" in 2007 to woo doctors' loyalty by paying fellowship grants.

The documents, subsequently obtained by the Star Tribune, indicate that the $1.5 million spent on 18 fellowship grants would likely reap a 200 percent return on investment in the first year.

The objective was to "build a community of practitioners that embrace Medtronic's mission," as well as "secure ... new business revenue streams."

A Medtronic spokeswoman said Thursday that the company's Australasia management became aware of the program in mid-2007 and determined that it was "inappropriate" -- not consistent with its business conduct standards -- and terminated it immediately.

Meanwhile, a brochure from a Medtronic-sponsored scientific meeting concerning treating the aging spine that was held Aug. 28-30 in Hunter Valley, a posh resort in the Australian wine country, featured a speaker of some renown in med-tech circles here: Dr. Timothy Kuklo. Kuklo, a former military doctor, was also a Medtronic consultant until this summer, when the Army accused him of falsifying a study using a Medtronic spine product. As it turns out, Kuklo didn't speak at the meeting.

Also on the agenda: Dr. David Polly, the head of spine surgery at the University of Minnesota's Medical School, whose relationship with Medtronic has been scrutinized by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee who's investigating relationships between medical device firms and doctors.

Polly said in an e-mail last week that he is still an active consultant working with the company.
And the foot-dragging on conflict-of-interest policy revision at the U continues. The University of Iowa started last January and already have a policy in place.

Recall the words of President Bruininks:

"I think we need to put ourselves in the position of acting according to the highest ethical principles. I believe our people do that now and I believe our people will be doing that in the future as well." President Bruininks (Daily: 6-18-08)

Norman Borlaug - a University of Minnesota alum and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize - has died.

Well done good and faithful servant...

At the University of Minnesota rather that boasting that we are driven to discover, perhaps we should come up with some new slogan that emphasizes the importance of people, because they are our most important product.

Nothing makes me prouder than the fact that Dr. Borlaug graduated from the U. Dr. Borlaug was our most illustrious and our most important graduate and we have had plenty of them.

He was admitted to the university through General College as he was initially judged unworthy of acceptance at the U. He is the perfect example of a true student athlete and is in the U's Wrestling Hall of Fame.

From the Strib:

Norman Borlaug, an Iowa farmboy who graduated from the University of Minnesota, believed food was a moral right. He spent his life travel ling the world as a scientist and humanitarian, becoming the Green Revolution's "Apostle of Wheat" for the high-yield grain he perfected to fill stomachs worldwide.

Because of Borlaug, families in Asia, Latin America and Africa have more to eat today, leaders of the National Academy of Sciences said in 2002 in awarding him its Public Welfare Medal. "Some credit him with saving more human lives than any other person in history,'' said the academy's president, Bruce Alberts.

For all but the final two years of his life, Borlaug traveled so extensively that his family saw him only three a times a year, said his son, William Gibson Borlaug, of Dallas. His father thought everyone had a right to a roof over their head, a full stomach and an education. "He was a great person and did an awful lot of good in the world," his son said.

Despite his work around the world, Borlaug stayed close to his Minnesota roots. He was in the university's Hall of Fame for wrestling and was to serve as grand marshal at the homecoming football game next month. "He was really looking forward to that," William Borlaug said. "He had a real soft spot in his heart for the University of Minnesota."

Borlaug talked to some of [wrestling coach, J] Robinson's teams, telling them how wrestling taught him tenacity that proved helpful in his work. Borlaug recalled his own coach telling him repeatedly, "Never give up."

Tenacity became a Borlaug hallmark.

At the University of Minnesota, he had to do remedial work because some of his high school credits weren't accepted, and he had failed an exam that would have gotten him in without the credits. Now his name marks a building on the Twin Cities campus, where he earned a Ph.D. in plant pathology in 1942.

[Dr. Borlaug was accepted initially in General College...]

Mexico became home. There Borlaug and his wife -- the former Margaret Gibson, whom he met in Minnesota and who died in 2007 at age 95 -- raised children and organized Little League baseball teams that he coached to the Mexican national championship. Mexicans, however, honor him for a different feat: making them self-sufficient in wheat by 1956.

The quest for sturdy, high-yielding wheat was likely to take 10 years or more because plants must grow through several generations of selection before new traits are stable. He tried cutting the time in half by growing one crop in northern Mexico, then carting seeds 1,200 miles south to sneak in a second crop each year.

The shuttle breeding provided an unexpected breakthrough: unlike most crop varieties, which are suited only for a small geographic area, his wheat could thrive almost anywhere. And thrive it did.

With Borlaug's help in the 1960s, Pakistan and India became self-sufficient in wheat. Production also jumped in China, Latin America, Australia, Europe and the United States.

But the miracle seeds came at a price. Borlaug became a prime target for groups that claimed that the true legacy of the green revolution was polluting chemicals, a lack of crop diversity and large farms that require expensive machinery.

Asked about the criticism during an interview in Mexico in 1991, Borlaug slammed a fist on the table: "Stop right there! This is false information that did us great harm.''

Like medicine, farm chemicals must be used correctly, he said. While the new seeds responded to synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals, they didn't always need chemicals to flourish. In Asia they commonly were used on farms of fewer than 10 acres with simple machinery, he said.

Critics also accused Borlaug of contributing to overpopulation. With more to eat, more people would survive through reproductive years, they said, and eventually the population would catch up with yield gains. Thus, people would be hungry again and there would be more of them to starve.

Borlaug punched back. His critics, he said, were well-fed elitists in the entrenched bureaucracies where they passed judgment from air-conditioned offices that were far removed from hungry peasants.

Wherever Borlaug worked, he preached of population control. Over the years, results on that point tended to fall in his favor as many developing nations demonstrated that family planning could take hold when hunger and economic need were eased.

But Borlaug didn't claim to have all of the right answers either: "Sure there are defects, but I've got to do the best I can with that genetic hand of cards that I'm dealt,'' he said.

"I am but one member of a vast team made up of many organizations, officials, thousands of scientists and millions of farmers -- mostly small and humble -- who many years have been fighting an often-times losing war on the food production front,'' he said when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The prize, won by only a few Americans, placed him in the ranks of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and humanitarian Elie Wiesel.

Even after working in Mexico for many years, he spoke with an accent that echoed the immigrants who settled Iowa's "Little Norway."' And he epitomized their steadfast refusal to bend on principle -- lecturing heads of state who ignored his calls for curbs on population growth and battling critics of green-revolution technologies.

"Americans need to understand that peace and tranquility for our grandchildren won't be built on the human misery that abounds in many parts of the world. Poverty and ignorance are a fertile seedbed into which can be planted all kinds of extreme -isms, like terrorism," he said. "The world has shrunk with improved communication. The misery that used to be hidden is all out front now. Tranquility cannot be made by the military alone. All the money that goes into the military by the western allies, and we spend more than any other, is a poor substitute for education that offers people a little better standard of living and buys time to improve their outlook for a decent life."

In his later years, Borlaug turned his work to some of the world's poorest farmers. Former President Jimmy Carter and Japanese philanthropist Ryoichi Sasakawa recruited him in 1984 to help drought-stricken regions in sub-Saharan Africa.

"With his agricultural techniques -- which combined high-yielding cereal varieties with appropriate fertilizer use and weed control -- the production of corn, wheat, cassava, potato, sorghum, and cow peas increased considerably,'' the National Academy of Sciences said in 2002

Saturday, September 12, 2009


From Yesterday's

University of Minnesota

Regents Meeting

#UMN Bore: Latest graduation rate statistics http://bit.ly/PCRXn We are 11/11 in our self-declared peer group. Where are our priorities?

#UMN Bore: Disappointing that the the State Open Meeting Law and the U/LLC not addressed. Some at meeting were aware of the problem...

#UMN Bore: Regent Simmons comments that THE matter of concern for Regents is grad. rate - as well it should be given the low number.

#UMN BoRe: Sullivan says little about numbers acc document... There are "gaps" between us and the top three public research universities.

#UMN BoRe: Sullivan claims our fac. salaries are 7th in peer group. Includes Calif schools with inflated sal. Where do we rank in BigTen?

#UMN BoRe: Sullivan now talking about importance of graduating in a timely fashion. We are last in the BigTen in this regard

#UMN Bore: Reg. Baragas: "Such a big comp thing(LLC). Still don't know we are going in the right direction. We all have some misgivings..."

@UMN BoRe: Legacy fund - It sounds to this cynic, that a slush fund is being developed for the administration to do with as it sees fit...

#UMN BoRe: Rotenberg: LLC reports as required by law? What is the legal requirement for reporting under an LLC?

#UMN BoRe: Rotenberg - effective University oversight at regental and administrative levels How about the public?

#UMN BoRe: Focus only on corporate structure of LLC. Aren't going to focus on MoreU details. Claims transparency considered in decision.

#UMN BoRe: Bruininks pitches LLC for MoreU Park. Mining of gravel. Why don't we sell the gravel pit?

#UMN BoRe: Bohnsack pushes on Bell. Bruininks admits Bell probably DOA if attempt made again. [Folwell more defensible]

Bruininks ask $80 mil for Phys and Nano. Seems high. But this is potentially worth more to the state than more biosciences bldg. #UMN

President Bruininks says we could easily use $200 mil for HEAPR #UMN

Bruininks has Folwell Hall at high priority, Bell gone. Better late than never..


There were other twitterers at the BoRe including some real pros - unlike the amateurish Mr. Bonzo.


ByJenna Request also includes $36.5 million to renovate Folwell Hall. Bruininks: "This building needs some work.... After HEAPR, our top priority."

posttim I see at least three people tweeting #UMN regents meeting, me, @byjenna and @wbgleason, we've reached tweet-saturation

As the old saying goes: Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

University of Minnesota graduation Rates 11/11 in self-selected peer group.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

From Wise Choices:

Minnesota Limited Liability Company Formation

Your Minnesota LLC create a flexible corporate governance environment for you. Unlike a standard corporation which by law must conduct annual meetings and produce written meeting minutes, your Minnesota LLC operates under no such standard, rather your Minnesota LLC can determine its own meeting and reporting requirements as set forth in your Minnesota LLC operating agreement.
Representative Wilson to Obama: You Lie

State of Minnesota in Need of a Motivating Principle?

University of Minnesota, Also?

From the Pioneer-Planet:

In Need of a Motivating Principle

Without a clear, common motivating principle, even good people of good faith and great talent are no match for inertia. The challenge is to expand the public conversation about public spending beyond a superficial, status-quo-reinforcing argument between the forces of "more" and the forces of "less." By all accounts, we're facing years of "less" — in terms of tax revenue to support new public spending.

That leaves us with this option: Reset priorities, and reform the way we think about, and deliver, public services.

Reset priorities, Dr. Bruininks!

Do you know what this means?

No more third best yadda, yadda.

Let's return to our land grant mission. Let's have a building moratorium. After all, as the old saying goes, people are our most important product.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Help Stamp Out Nattering Nabobs of Negativity?

(Or Some Pigs are More Equal Than Other Pigs...)

From 'CCO:

University of Minnesota students had to do something a little different this year in order to get season tickets. They had to sign a student fan code of conduct.

Before the tickets are handed out, students have to agree to the code of conduct and sign it. Some students say the new code of conduct will help make the game more enjoyable, others are not so sure.

"I think it's a good thing you know, no one likes when everyone is being negative or when people are being too rowdy," said Brandon Arentson.

"Pretty overbearing if you ask me. It's like they are putting us in handcuffs before we even get in the stadium. Sounds like we can't have any real fun, it's like they're restricting us from being real college students," said Greg Imholte.

University officials say they hope students who sign the code of conduct will hold others accountable by helping stop any negative behavior they see.

Fans will receive a copy of the new code of conduct in their guides and they are expected to follow the same rules students are required to follow, but students are the only ones who have to sign the fan code of conduct before being allowed to buy tickets.

Ah, speaking of codes of conduct...

From the Daily:

Athletic Director Overrules Code of Conduct, Clears Mbakwe For Practice

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hmm... Guess the Met Council and the Federal Transit Authority are "Unscientific"?

From a blanket email by University of Minnesota Research Vice President, Timothy Mulcahy:

Tue, Sep 8, 2009 at 1:04 PM

In a recent mailing from Vice President Kathleen O’Brien, you heard about the Record of Decision that was recently issued by the Federal Transit Administration and the Metropolitan Council’s adequacy determination for the project. Vice President O’Brien also outlined the unresolved issues for which decisions remain to be made. If you haven’t had an opportunity to read the status report, you can view it here.

The University remains committed to public transit and the success of the CCLRT project, but there must be effective, scientifically proven solutions that protect the University’s research mission. Please take this opportunity to write your mayor and/or county commissioner. Their contact information is below, along with sample talking points that you can use as a starting point for your own letter.

Talking points

  • Note that you are a Minneapolis or St. Paul resident.
  • Explain the sensitivity of your research/your research ties to the U/the value of your research to the state and its citizens.
  • State that you are asking for their support of proven, scientifically sound solutions that will provide necessary protections to your research.
  • Ask them to support the University in its efforts to secure a mitigation plan that properly protects research.
Dr. Mulcahy:

This is a curious combination of innuendo and business as usual. If you look carefully at the documents available on the Met Council site it is pretty clear that the FTA did not bite on the ginned up support solicited from the U of M by so-called stakeholders. In fact we look ridiculous with a large number of letters of support copied slavishly from a template.

It is particularly disturbing to me to hear this "proven, scientifically sound solutions" business. As a scientist you should be ashamed of signing your name to such a statement. Please explain what you mean by this. Are you accusing the FTA of not providing "scientifically sound solutions" to this problem? By my reading of the ROD it seems that they have approved of the environmental remediations proposed by the Met Council. Have I misinterpreted something here?

Once again I recommend to you that you outline the financial consequences for remediation at the U of the route and construction methods accepted by the FTA for this project. Asking for a blank check is simply unacceptable.

Why is this so difficult?

Let's grow up and face facts. And then let's work to make the central corridor light rail route a success. The longer you keep this up, the less sympathy you are going to have on the remediation matter.


Bill Gleason

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sunshine is the best disinfectant...

Part 999,999,...

From the Star-Tribune

Drug company paid MN doctors $754,127

By JANET MOORE, Star Tribune

September 2, 2009

Forest Laboratories Inc. paid 62 Minnesota doctors at least $1,000 each in speakers' fees, with 28 physicians receiving payments of more than $10,000, according to The Pew Prescription Project. All told, Forest paid Minnesota practitioners more than $750,000 in 2008.

Minnesota was the first among a handful of states requiring drug companies to disclose payments to doctors, and the annual disclosure reports have repeatedly revealed potential conflicts of interest in the way physicians prescribe drugs or conduct clinical research, while adding fuel to a national debate about greater disclosure of the financial ties between industry and doctors.

"The analysis tells us that a lot of doctors in Minnesota have become extensions of Forest's marketing campaign," said Allan Coukell, director of The Pew Prescription Project.

A report released by congressional investigators Tuesday highlighted how Forest marketed Lexapro, a depression drug that reaped $2.3 billion for the New York-based company last year.

A $100 million "marketing plan" hatched by Forest in 2004 hints at the way some pharmaceutical companies encourage doctors to prescribe their brands, even if they are more expensive than others or if a generic version is available.

Those practices include paying "key opinion leaders" in certain clinical fields, such as psychiatry, to make speeches on Lexapro's behalf using slides provided by the company, authoring bylined articles for doctors about the drug, and funding their continuing medical education classes.

Forest's median payment in Minnesota was $8,000, while the average was $12,000, and all were listed as either a "speaker fee" or "travel reimbursement.'' Often doctors speak at medical meetings on issues or trends in their field, but it's unclear from the state data what Forest paid the doctors to speak about and where the speeches took place.

But the Lexapro marketing plan, discovered by investigators for Sen. Charles Grassley, indicate many doctors were slated to become part of a "Speakers Bureau" who got a "slide kit" from the company, training prior to speeches and webcasts from company sales representatives.

Coukell said information about doctors receiving money from drug companies should prompt patients to ask why the drug they're taking is the best one for their condition, and whether a cheaper alternative exists.

"The existence of financial relationships ... should make a patient -- not second-guess a prescription -- but certainly be more cautious about the way in which prescribing decisions are made," he said.